Gatwick train firm fined £1m over death of passenger struck on head by gantry
Govia Thameslink Railway pleaded guilty to a health and safety breach over the death of Simon Brown in south London in 2016.
A train operator has been fined £1 million after a passenger was killed when he put his head out of an unlocked carriage window.
Simon Brown, 24, suffered catastrophic head injuries when he was struck by a signal gantry while on a Gatwick Express train travelling at about 60mph near Wandsworth Common station in south London.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs the service, pleaded guilty to a health and safety breach at a previous hearing over Mr Brown’s death on August 7 2016.
Sentencing the company at Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday, Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC ordered the firm to pay £52,267 in costs as well as the £1 million fine.
The court heard that railway enthusiast Mr Brown was travelling on a Class 442 train when he put his head out of a window, intended for use by conductors.
Judge Pegden said: “Simon Brown appears to have put his head through the droplight window of the train where it was struck by the trackside gantry.
“Tragically he died as a result of the injuries sustained and all that could be done was done to save him.”
During Mr Brown’s inquest in 2017, Dr Shirley Radcliffe said there was “no doubt” that his head was out of the window.
But she said it was “not possible” with the lack of CCTV to know how he came to have his head out of the window and whether it was voluntarily or involuntarily.
Mr Brown, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, was discovered on the train floor by a fellow passenger.
This was a tragic corporate blindspot in what is otherwise a well-run organisation Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC
Judge Pegden said there was no-one on the train to monitor the use of the window at the time of the incident.
He said that, while there was a sticker on the door warning passengers against leaning out, it was “jumbled” around other notices.
“The signage around the window was confusing,” he said.
The court heard that the gap between the window and the gantry was only about 10in (260mm).
Judge Pegden said no risk assessment was carried out that might have identified the droplight window risk.
“This was a tragic corporate blindspot in what is otherwise a well-run organisation,” he said.
“Significant efforts had not been made to address the risk.”
The court heard that, following Mr Brown’s death, GTR took steps to “minimise risk” by putting hazard tape across on the droplight windows of its 14 Class 442 trains.
It also placed bars across the windows in such a way that it was still possible to lower the window, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said.
The Class 442 trains were withdrawn from service in 2017 across all of GTR’s network.
GTR knew which of their trains included such windows and the clearances involved on the route and should have taken steps to address that risk. The barring of windows was a simple process and it was simple to engineer out the risk which droplights posed to passengers Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC
Judge Pegden said: “GTR knew which of their trains included such windows and the clearances involved on the route and should have taken steps to address that risk.
“The barring of windows was a simple process and it was simple to engineer out the risk which droplights posed to passengers.”
In a victim impact statement from Mr Brown’s mother, Jane Street, she described her son as the “nucleus” of his family, and someone who was “full of vitality and energy”.
Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risk to their health and safety.
The ORR’s investigation revealed that there had been a similar incident in 2002, which resulted in enforcement action being taken against the train operator South Central Limited.
The ORR told the court that the risks associated with droplight windows should have been identified by a suitable risk assessment, and control measures introduced accordingly. However, GTR failed to take the appropriate action.
In a statement issued by the ORR after the hearing, Mr Brown’s family said: “The family thanks the judge for recognising that Simon’s ‘needless and untimely death’ was a ‘direct result’ of GTR’s failure to discharge its duty to every passenger on the Gatwick Express.
“Irrespective of the penalty imposed we hope, as a result of our tragedy, that operating companies up and down the country will take their responsibilities to the travelling public more seriously.”
After the hearing, Ian Prosser, ORR director of safety and HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “It is to GTR’s credit that they pleaded guilty to the offence and spared the family the pain of a protracted court case.
“We are also pleased that the court recognised the severity of the offence and reflected that in the sentence passed.
“There are still some trains with droplight windows operating on the network and we have written to operators instructing them to take immediate action to prevent a similar tragedy happening again.”
GTR chief executive Patrick Verwer said: “I am very sorry for the death of Mr Brown and the deep distress this tragic loss has caused his family and friends.”